You may have seen artist impressions and travel documentaries, but witnessing the lush, undulating landscape of Tuscany first hand is an experience to be cherished. There is a palpable air of calm here and, as you travel, every turn reveals another vineyard, olive-grove, ancient borgo or quaintly crumbling farmhouse.
In an especially picturesque piece of landscape just 45 minutes from Pisa airport rests Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, the base for our trip.
Two years ago Castelfalfi was an abandoned village, a ruin lying virtually dormant. Today the 800-year-old medieval hamlet, once home to Italy’s revered Medici family, has been reborn. Thanks to a €250m investment, renovations will be completed in 2018.
At the village’s heart sits the Castello, a majestic edifice that towers over the surrounding 2,700-acre estate. Once a defensive fortress, it is today the chic La Rocca restaurant, run by Michelin- starred chef Michele Rinaldi. Rustic dishes of exceptional quality such as Chianina Beef tartare, Boar in a jar and Rabbit-Tuna set a precedent for standards throughout the estate.
From the Castello, it is a gentle stroll down the cobbled central street to La Tabaccaia, the resort’s boutique hotel. Like the rest of the village, it has been renovated with respect for its heritage. While the outer façade retains the original tobacco factory aesthetic, the interiors echo their rural surroundings. The olive-green-brushed concrete feature walls and dark wooden beams make the bedrooms both luxurious yet rustic.
But there is another gem that shouldn’t be missed and that is the golf. Though the resort is peaceful, there is plenty to do, including boutique shops, a magnificent park and two outdoor pools. One of the greatest treats is the wine-tasting experience. Sitting in the sunshine, with three of the estate’s wines and a seemingly endless charcuterie board of local produce, it was an afternoon of pure, Italian indulgence. For those with a love of the great outdoors, golf, hunting, horse riding, cycling and vineyard tours are also available on site.
The major cities of Pisa, Florence and Siena are easily commutable by car and the spectacular towers of San Gimignano are only a 20-minute drive away; (the climb up the tallest tower is particularly ungraceful, but the view is well worth it).
The bustle provides the perfect contrast to the tranquility of Castelfalfi.
Tuscany is famous for its exports: Giotto, Renaissance art, Dante, Andrea Bocelli, olive oil, Pinocchio, Chianti, Pecorino cheese to name a few.
The Mountain Course
But there is another gem that shouldn’t be missed and that is the golf. Italy’s first course, Ugolino (originally Florence GC), was established in 1889. With the Tuscan landscape, an exceptional climate and affordable prices, the region has become an increasingly popular golf destination. The offering ranges from seaside splendors such as Cosmopolitan and Punta Ala to sprawling hilly parklands like Poggio dei Medici and indeed Castelfalfi.
“It was on the line of the castle, going into the olive grove – I’d hit another.”
This, my playing partner’s response to one of my trademark tee shots, gives you a sense of what to expect.
There are two courses to choose from: the pleasant 9-hole Lake and its more challenging sibling, the Mountain.
We played the latter on a picture- perfect September morning. The previous night’s electrical storm meant no buggies were allowed. Generally this would not be a problem; I prefer the exercise and sense of perspective you only get from walking a course. Yet looking at the scorecard and seeing, ’Mountain’ and ’6531m’, I couldn’t help but feel slightly anxious.
Once out on the course, calm was restored as we worked our way through the arrangement of clever hole designs, where the quirky short par-4 14th sits comfortably alongside the long raking every-bit-a-modern-championship par-5 16th. The wide fairways weave among epic views of the estate’s vineyards and olive groves. I’ve never been happier looking for the inevitable lost ball (or six).
The designers have utilised the natural landscape, allowing the course to assimilate perfectly within the grounds.
Because of this, whether you manage to get a buggy or not, playing golf at Castelfalfi is breathtaking.
Florence at dusk
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